Wed, 23 Nov 2016 09:50:29 +0000
GOVERNMENT’S decision to diversify the economy from the long time and traditional mining to agriculture may remain a pipedream if farmers’ access to
agricultural and agro-processing finance is low. Indications that only about 0.62 percent are registered agriculture related businesses with the Patents and Companies Registration Agency (PACRA) must raise concern not only to Government but also all stakeholders. What is more shocking to learn is that only one percent of farmers have access to loans from commercial banks. This brings to the fore two serious issues for immediate consideration: the need to encourage formal registration of agriculture related business companies and adequate financing of the agriculture sector. Why has the agriculture sector largely remained informal? What did the previous governments not do right to diversify this vital sector? What policies did not work well to support the shift from mining to agriculture?
We are cognisant that the main thrusts of the National Agricultural Policy (NAP) are liberalisation, commercialisation, promotion of public and private partnerships, and provision of effective agricultural services that will ensure sustainable agricultural growth. Alas, the agriculture sector has remained largely informal after more than 50 years of Zambia’s Independence.
It is well known that majority of the farmers are peasant farmers who lack the knowledge on technologically advanced methods of farming as well as means of accessing finance for their farming activities. There is need, therefore, to advocate for the transition of human capital centred farming activities to highly mechanised kind of farming among the large populace of our farmers.
However, this calls for a lot of investment of resources into training of peasant farmers to equip them with the right knowledge on different aspects of farming.
On the other hand, Government ought to initiate programmes that should make the agriculture sector attractive to the youth as opposed to the misconception that farming is for the old and retired persons. Now that the agriculture sector is earmarked to become the mainstay of Zambia’s economy, there is every need to champion the need to change the miscued notion that majority of our people have towards farming. Farming, as rightly observed by the Minister of Agriculture, has the potential to drive the economy of the country but that most people are shunning it because they do not perceive it as a business. We think that for the agriculture sector to take its rightful dormant position as Zambia’s economy mainstay, a lot of public discussions where agriculture economists and entrepreneur pundits must explain on how farming is a potentially viable business venture.
The moment we have more and more of young entrepreneurs getting on board to the sector, the more likely it will be for the commercial banks to begin providing loan facilities tailored to meet the agro-business.
During the UNIP’s government, between the 1970s and 1980s, Zambia’s agriculture was growing rapidly in comparison to other economic activities because then availability of agricultural inputs was well coordinated, well distributed to bona fide farmers countrywide and markets were operating through rural cooperatives. However, the collapse of some of the institutions which used to provide services particularly in rural areas has left many farmers with no guaranteed access to markets and credit.
What is Government doing through the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that farmers easily accessed loans from the commercial banks? It is definitely and undeniably true that access to key services such as credit, marketing and information has been problematic especially to small-scale farmers in outlying areas. Government has devised the strategy to improve food securities by implementing the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP), which was designed to improve access of smallholder farmers to inputs and very recently introduced the E-voucher system. We hold the view that the need for more private sector involvement in the agriculture industry is cardinal to foster stronger partnerships with the Government for sustainable implementation of programmes.
There is need for Government to equally focus attention on enhancing training and teaching of agriculture science in schools and higher institutions of learning so that students are equipped with agricultural knowledge.
We think this can be another way in which to generate interest among the youth people to raise an agriculture-minded generation to drive economic prospects of Zambia.